【Cello Factory】Misconception in learning cello skills – Using fingerboard markings

Many who are interested in cello may think playing skills are difficult and complicated.  So when they do quick or self-taught learning, they often opt for simple and target-oriented method – using stickers or markings on fingerboard to label positions for the left fingers.  They believe that once they can find the notes on strings, they can play simple songs using basic skills with the least time.


However, we should not take this simple learning method for the left hand lightly because relying on fingerboard markings can bring profound and bad influences.  Especially for those who are eagar to appreciate genuine cello music and serious in developing cello playing skills afterwards, they will have difficulty in having advancement in learning later on.

The 3 reasons for having bottleneck are as below:


  • Students have a misconception of having the right pitches when they know the notes by their positions on fingerboard

Real cello techniques will 100% secure pitches though muscle memory developed from hand shapes and hand positions and also fine tuning during listening with the ears.  On the contrary, fingerboard markings are too preliminary for learning pitches.  Also because it is faster to identify the markings with the eyes than to distinguish the sound differences with the ears, students will try to get the job done carelessly without distinguishing whether the notes are really in tune.


  • Students fails to play the cello in the correct posture

As students need to check the fingers’ positions with their eyes all the time, they will rotate the upper body frequently and even pull the cello away which results in moving the left hand and changing the angles of finger placement on strings.  This will not only affects the pitch but also their playing, e.g. taking pauses to visually confirm the positions and having difficulty in playing songs with higher speed.


  • Students fail to train up crucial cello skills when they replace the ears with the eyes during learning

By replacing the ears with the eyes during learning, students’ understanding of each note is limited to the physical position but not its note register.  The ears are thus deprived from distinguishing the differences in sound and training of such ability and pitches.  Also, using the wrong sense to learn will lead them to think that their left hand is good enough as long as they can find the correct positions for all fingers.  As a result, they will overlook many crucial left hand skills needed to be trained.


If students start without relying on any markings when they learn cello, they will be able to learn the correct hand shapes and start to train their ears early.  Developing correct hand shapes will help them find the notes’ positions and relative hand positions.  Also, this will help them to effectively play with different body parts which is beneficial in building overall muscle memory.  When students become accustomed to using their ears to listen, they will start to develop the ability to distinguish different sounds with their ears which can help enhance qualities of the produced sounds and facilitate the development of skills related to fine tuning pitches and producing different tone qualities (e.g. volume control, even playing, tone colour change, etc.).  In this way, they will be truly able to handle the different skills needed for playing in future.


If you wish to get to know real cello playing skills for producing music with cello characteristics, you should not make haste for temporal success by replacing the ears with the eyes during learning and build solid and fundamental skills step by step.


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